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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Fish: Whale Shark


Description:

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a large, distinctively marked member of the subclass Elasmobranchii of the class Chondrichthyes. It is the largest shark and also the largest fish. The greatest size accurately recorded was 14 m long, but lengths up to 20 m have been reported. It is not to be confused with the Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), the second largest fish.

The average whale shark is around 8 m long. A member of the order Orectolobiformes, it is a filter feeder. The shark has a capacious mouth, which can be up to 1.5 m wide and contain up to 300 rows of tiny teeth, and as part of its feeding process, it also has five large pairs of gill arches. The head is, naturally, wide and also flat with the small eyes towards the front of the snout. The body is mostly grey with a white belly, but three prominent ridges run along each side and the skin is marked with a 'checkerboard' of pale yellow spots and stripes. The shark has two pairs each of dorsal fins and pectoral fins. The tail is large, with a much larger top fin than lower in juveniles but semi-lunate in adults. The spiracles are just behind the shark's eyes. The whale shark is not an efficient swimmer - with the entire body in motion, unusual for sharks, an average speed of around 5 km/h is achieved.

Status: Classified as Vulnerable (VU -A1bd+2d) on the IUCN Red List 2002.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Birds: Hawaiian Goose


Description

The Hawaiian Goose or Nēnē, Branta sandvicensis, is a species of goose endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It shares a recent common ancestor with Branta canadensis, the Canada Goose. The official bird of the State of Hawai'i, the Nēnē is exclusively found in the wild of the islands of Mau'i, Kaua'i and Hawai'i.

The species has a black head, buff cheeks and heavily furrowed neck. Bill, legs and feet are black. The young birds are as the male but duller brown and with less demarcation between the colours of the head and neck, and striping and barring effects are much reduced. Bill, legs and feet as for the adult.

The female Hawaiian Goose is similar to the male in colouring but slightly smaller.

Its strong toes have much reduced webbing, an adaptation to the lava flows on which it breeds. It mates on land unlike most other wildfowl.

This is the world's rarest goose. Once common, hunting and introduced predators such as mongooses, pigs, and cats reduced the population to 30 birds by 1952. However, this species breeds well in captivity, and has been successfully re-introduced so that now (2004) it is estimated that there are 500 birds in the wild (and good numbers in wildfowl collections).

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mammals: Snub-Nosed Monkey


Description

The snub-nosed monkeys are a group of Old World monkeys and make up the entirety of the genus Rhinopithecus. They are a rare genus and have not been investigated well. Sometimes they are grouped together with the Pygathrix genus.

Snub-nosed monkeys live in Asia, their range is southern China (especially Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou) as well as northern of Vietnam.

These monkeys get their name from the short, stump of a nose on their round face, whose nostrils are arranged forward. Their fur is relatively multicolored and long, particularly at the shoulders and backs. They grow to a length of 51 to 83 cm with a tail of 55 to 97 cm.

Snub-nosed monkeys inhabit mountain forests up to a height of 4000 m, in the winter moving into the deeply secluded regions. They spend the majority of their life in the trees. They live together in very large groups of up to 600 members, splitting up into smaller groups when food is scarce, such as in the winter. Groups consist of many more males than females. They are territorial animals, defending their territory mostly with shouts. Their vocal repetoire is large, and their calls are sometimes solos while at other times choir-like.

The diet of these animals consists mainly of tree needles, bamboo buds, fruits and leaves. A multichambered stomach helps them with digesting their food.

The impulse for mating starts with the female. It takes up eye contact with the male and runs away a short bit, then flashes its genitals. If the male shows interest, which is not always the case, it joins the female and they mate. The 200 day gestation period comes to fruition with a single birth in late spring or early summer. Young animals become fully mature in about 5 to 7 years. Not enough is known about their life expectancy.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Amphibians: Blue-Legged Mantella


Description

With a greenish-yellow back contrasting with dark blue hind legs and black sides, the blue-legged mantella is a popular frog in the pet trade. Males are a little smaller than females and have an obvious horseshoe-shaped blue spot on the lower throat. Both sexes have a light stripe along the upper lip. Colours can vary between individuals, but the more highly contrasting individuals are most likely to be collected for the pet trade.

The blue-legged mantella is classified as Critically Endangered (CR B2ab(iii,v)) on the IUCN Red List 2004 and is listed on Appendix II of CITES.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Reptiles: Aldabra Giant Tortoise


Description

The Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Geochelone gigantea) is one of the largest tortoises in the world. Similar in size to the famous Galapagos Giant Tortoise, its carapace averages 120 cm in length. The average weight of a male is around 250 kg, but one male at the Fort Worth, Texas zoo weighs over 360 kg.

The shell is a dark gray or black color with a high domed shape. It has stocky, heavily scaled legs to support its heavy body. The neck of the Aldabra Giant Tortoise is very long, even for its great size, which helps the animal to exploit tree branches up to a meter from the ground as a food source.

The main population of the Aldabra Giant Tortoise resides on the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. Another group of the animals resides on the island of Zanzibar. The tortoises exploit many different kinds of habitat including grasslands, low scrub, mangrove swamps, and coastal dunes.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Invertebrates: Coconut Crab



Description

The coconut crab (Birgus latro) is the largest terrestrial arthropod in the world. It is a derived hermit crab which is known for its ability to crack coconuts with its strong pincers in order to eat the contents. It is sometimes called the robber crab or palm thief (in German, Palmendieb), because some coconut crabs steal shiny items such as pots and silverware from houses and tents. Another name is the terrestrial hermit crab, due to the use of shells by the young animals (although terrestrial hermit crab also applies to a number of other hermit crabs - see Australian land hermit crab). The coconut crab also has different local names as for example ayuyu in Guam, or unga or kaveu.

Reports about the size of Birgus latro vary, and most references give a weight of up to 4 kg (9 lb), a body length of up to 400 mm (16 in), and a leg span of 1 m (3 ft), with males generally being larger than females. Some reports claim weights up to 17 kg and a body length of 1 m. It is believed that this is near the theoretical limit for a terrestrial arthropod (but when the body is supported by water, larger sizes are possible; see Japanese spider crab). They can reach an age of up to 30-60 years (references vary).

The body of the coconut crab is, like all decapods, divided into a front section (cephalothorax) and an abdomen, which has 10 legs. The front-most legs have massive pincers used to open coconuts, and these claws (chaelae) can lift objects up to 29 kg (64 lb) in weight. The next three pairs have smaller tweezer-like chelae at the end, and are used as walking limbs. In addition these specially adapted limbs enable the coconut crab to climb vertically up trees (often coconut palms) up to 6 m high. The last pair of legs is very small and serves only to clean the breathing organs. These legs are usually held inside the carapace, in the cavity containing the breathing organs.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Fish: Great White Shark

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Description

The Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), also known as White Pointer, White Shark or Amaletz, is an exceptionally large lamniform shark found in coastal surface waters in all major oceans. Reaching lengths of about 6 meters (about 21 feet) and weights of about 1,800 kilograms (4,000 pounds), the Great White is the world's largest predatory fish. They are the only known surviving species of their genus, Carcharodon.

Great Whites have excellent eyesight and can see in colour, and have highly-developed behaviors which are only now being researched. Their reputation as ferocious predators is well-earned, yet they are not (as once was believed) indiscriminate "eating machines". Great White sharks primarily eat fishes and pinnipeds such as seals and sea lions. Great Whites are apex predators; the only animals known to attack them are other Great Whites, sperm whales, humans, and orcas.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) has put the great white shark on its 'Appendix II' list of endangered species. The shark is targeted by fishermen for its jaws, teeth, and fins, and as a game fish.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Birds: Hawaiian Crow

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Description

The Hawaiian Crow, Corvus hawaiiensis, is a fascinating species about the size (48-50 cm in length) of the Carrion Crow but with more rounded wings and a much thicker bill. The plumage is soft and lax in texture and it has long, bristly throat feathers. The overall colour is a brownish-black becoming browner in more worn plumage. The feet, legs and bill are black.

The species is only found on the island of Hawaii in secluded valleys and ravines of open park-like montane forest. Once a relatively abundant species, it has now a dangerously reduced population probably brought about by more than one factor. This still seems strange for such a strong flying, and resourceful creature (which it certainly is) but introduced disease (probably one factor) is no respecter of an animal's ability to survive and its numbers have reached a critical level that it may not come back from due to its reduced gene pool.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Mammals: Asiatic Lion

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Description

The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) is a subspecies of lion.

The last remnant of the Asiatic Lion, which in historical times ranged from Greece to India through Persia, lives in the Gir Forest of northwestern India. About 300 lions live in a 1412 km² (about 550 square miles) sanctuary in the state of Gujarat. In 1907 there were only 13 lions left in the Gir, when the Maharaj of Junagadh gave complete protection to them.

Unlike the tiger which prefers dense forests with adequate cover, the lion inhabits the scrub-type deciduous forests. compared to its african counterpart, the Indian lion has a scantier mane. The lion seldom comes into contact with the tiger which also inhabits this forest. Infact this is the only jungle in the world where the big two cats inhabit the same area.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Amphibians: Alpine salamander

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Description

The Alpine salamander (Salamandra atra) is a shiny black salamander. It is found on the Central and Eastern Alps, at altitudes above 700 metres. Adult alpine salamanders are approximately 9 to 14 cm in length. Their life expectancy is at least ten years.

It is an ovoviviparous amphibian, giving birth to two live young. Generally, at altitudes of 650-1,000 metres, a pregnancy lasts 2 years, and at altitudes of 1,400 to 1,700 metres, the pregnancy lasts 3 years.

A subspecies, the Golden Alpine Salamander (
Salamandra atra aurorae), is classified as being Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List 2002. This species has golden or yellow spots on its back.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Reptiles: Rhinoceros Iguana

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Description

Adult rhinoceros iguanas reach large sizes and have heavily built bodies that are dark brown, greyish brown or even black in colour. The underside is typically lighter in colour than the upper surface, and the snout features three horny bumps, which are more prominent in males than females. Juveniles are generally similar in appearance to adults, although they have nine pale crossbars for a time after hatching.

The rhinoceros iguana can be distinguished from the other two subspecies, the now extinct Navassa Island iguana (C. cornuta onchiopsis) and the Mona Island iguana (C. cornuta stejnegeri), by certain detailed features, including the number of scales.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Fish: Leafy Sea Dragon

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Description

The Leafy Sea Dragon (Phycodurus eques) is a marine fish related to the seahorse. These creatures are native to the waters around southern and western Australia and generally remain in shallow, temperate waters. Their name comes from their appearance, with long leaf-like protrusions coming from all over the body. Much like the seahorse their name comes from a chance resemblance to a known (in this case mythical) creature. While not large by sea monster standards, they are very large for sea horses, growing at least 18 inches (45 cm).

They feed on plankton and other small flotsam, and are not preyed upon by any species other than humans. Females deposit eggs on the tail of the male where they grow to maturity. They have become endangered through pollution and industrial runoff as well as collection by fascinated divers who are entranced by their unique appearance. In response to these dangers they have been officially protected by the Australian government. As of 2004, only 3 professional aquariums had succeeded in keeping sea dragons.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Invertebrates: Giant Clam

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Description

The Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas) or traditionally, pa’ua, is the largest living bivalve mollusc. One of a number of large clam species native to the shallow coral reefs of the South Pacific and Indian oceans, they weigh an average of 440 pounds and can measure as much as 1.5 meters across.

Permanently sessile in adulthood, the creature's siphon and mantle tissues act as a habitat for the green algae on which it feeds. By day, its shell remains open unless disturbed, and in this way the symbiotic algae may receive sunlight they need to grow.

The IUCN lists the giant clams as vulnerable. There is concern among conservationists for the sustainability of practices among those who use the animal as a source of livelihood. The numbers in the wild have been greatly reduced by extensive harvesting for food and aquarium trade. Illegal trade in giant clam shells for use as decorative accoutrements abounds, and the meat, called Himejako in Japan, is prized as a delicacy.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Birds: California Condor

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Description

Condor is the name for two species of bird in one of the vulture families. They are the largest flying land birds in the Western Hemisphere.

The South American Condor (Vultur gryphus) inhabits the Andes mountains. The California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) inhabits the western coast of the United States. Although they are primarily scavengers, feeding on carrion, these species belong to the New World vulture family Cathartidae, related to storks and not closely related to Old World vultures, which are in the family Accipitridae along with hawks, eagles and kites.

Condors usually measure about 1.2 m (4 ft) from the point of the beak to the extremity of the tail and 3 m (10 ft) between the tips of its wings, and can weigh over 13 kilograms (30 lb). Although other birds may have larger wingspan, the wing chord of the condor (distance from leading to trailing edge of wing) is exceptionally large, resulting in a very large total wing area, an adaptation for soaring.

Continue reading here.

(the picture is from this site)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Mammals: Beluga Whale

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Description

This gregarious whale can be up to 5m long, larger than all but the largest dolphins but smaller than most other toothed whales. Males are generally larger than the female - males can weigh 1.5 tonnes and females about one tonne. Newly-born Beluga are about 1.5m long and weigh 80kg. This whale is unmistakable when adult: it is all white and has a dorsal ridge rather than a fin. The head is also unlike that of any other cetacean - its melon is extremely bulbous and even malleable. The beluga is able to change the shape of its melon by blowing air around its sinuses. Again unlike many whales, the vertebrae in the neck are not fused together, allowing the animal flexibility to turn its head laterally.

The absence of the dorsal fin is reflected in the genus name of the species - apertus is the Latin for "finless". The evolutionary preference for a dorsal ridge in favour of a fin is believed by scientists to be adaption to under-ice conditions, or possibly as a way of preserving heat.

The body of the Beluga is rotund, particularly when well-fed, which tapers smoothly to both the head and tail. The tail fin grows and become increasingly ornately curved as the animal ages. The flippers are broad and short - making them almost square-shaped.

Continue reading here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Amphibians: Tomato Frog

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Description

Tomato frogs live up to their name by posessing a vibrant, orange-red colour. Females are much larger than males and have brighter tones of red or orange on their back, with a pale undersurface; some individuals also have black spots on the throat. It is thought that the brilliant colours act as a warning to potential predators that these frogs are toxic; a white substance secreted from the skin acts as a glue to deter predators (such as colubrid snakes) and can produce an allergic reaction in humans.

Read the whole text here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Invertebrates: Apollo Butterfly

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Description

The Apollo is a beautiful white butterfly, with highly variable markings. In general, the wings are shiny, with slightly transparent edges; there are a number of large black spots on the forewings and large red to orange spots on the hindwings. The caterpillars are velvety black with orange-red spots along the sides. These butterflies are mountain-dwellers and it is thought that the species became widespread during glaciation periods. Following the ice age, as temperatures increased, populations became isolated in mountainous areas; they subsequently evolved into distinct races and subspecies that vary greatly in the number and intensity of their markings.

Read the whole text here.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Birds: Kakapo Parrot

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Description:

The Kakapo (Maori for night parrot), Strigops habroptilus (from the Greek strix, genitive strigos: owl and ops:face; and habros: soft, and ptilon:feather.), is a species of nocturnal parrot endemic to New Zealand. It is notable for being the world's only flightless parrot, the heaviest parrot, and the only parrot to have a lek breeding system. It is also the only flightless lek bird and is possibly the world's longest-lived bird. It is the only species in the genus Strigops and subfamily Strigopinae. This species is often confused with the two other New Zealand parrots, the Kaka and the Kea.

Kakapo are critically endangered, with only 87 living individuals known, all of whom are named. Prehistorically, the ancestral Kakapo migrated to the islands of New Zealand and, in the absence of mammalian predators, it lost the ability to fly. With European and Polynesian colonization and the introduction of predators such as cats, rats, and stoats, almost all the kakapo were wiped out. In 1995, there were only 50 known surviving individuals.

Read the whole, extensive Wikipedia article here.
And check out the Kakapo conservation compaign.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Reptiles: Gila Monster

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Description

The Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) is one of the two known species of venomous lizards. (The other is the Mexican beaded lizard.) The Gila (pronounced heela) monster lives in the deserts of the southwestern USA and northwestern Mexico. It is a heavy, slow moving lizard, up to 60 cm (2 feet) long. Its skin has the appearance of beads in the colours black, pink, orange, and yellow, laid down in intricate patterns across the animal's body.

Unlike a snake, the Gila monster envenomates its victim not by means of hollow teeth, but through grooves in the teeth of its lower jaw. It produces only small quantities of the neurotoxic venom, which is secreted into the lizard's saliva. By chewing its prey, however, it tries to put as much of the poison into the bloodstream of its victim as possible.

The Gila monster's bite is normally not fatal to humans (there are no reliable reports of fatalities), but it can bite quickly and is known to hold on strongly.

The name "Gila monster" refers to the Gila River Basin in Arizona.

In 2005 the Food and Drug Administration of the United States approved a drug for the management of Type 2 diabetes, Byetta (exenatide), a synthetic version of a protein derived from the Gila monster's saliva.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Fish: Giant Mekong Catfish

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Description

The Giant Mekong Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) is the largest freshwater fish in the world. It is endemic to the Lao stretch of the Mekong river, where it is in danger of extinction due to overfishing as well as the decrease of water quality due to developement and upstream damming.

The fish reaches a length of 3 meters and a weight of 150-200 kg within 5 years, with the highest weight on record being 350 kg. It has successfully been transferred into reservoirs and lakes in Thailand for sportfishing.

In Laos, it is called "Pa Beuk," and is the most highly-esteemed fish in Lao cuisine. In former times, specific rites were associated with the catch of these fish, which was conducted once yearly.


From nationalgeographic.com:

The Mekong River's giant catfish (Pangasianodon Gigas) is on the path to extinction.

Today's release of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) updated 2003 Red List of Threatened Species shows that the flagship species of the storied river in Southeast Asia is classified as Critically Endangered, its numbers further reduced from its classification as Endangered in the previous IUCN Red List.

"P. gigas—the largest freshwater fish according to the Guinness Book of Records—is now very rare in northeast Thailand, southern Lao PDR, and Vietnam," said IUCN in a news release issued today. "Only 11 and eight fish were caught in 2001 and 2002 respectively. In 2003, fishers captured six giant catfish in Cambodia, all of which were released as part of the Mekong Fish Conservation Project."

The disappearance of the Mekong giant catfish is a sign of the slow decline of environmental conditions throughout the river. Like many species in the Mekong, the giant catfish needs great stretches of the river to migrate seasonally—and it must have specific water quality and flow to move through its lifecycles of spawning, eating, and breeding.

But the Mekong is under threat from human development. Millions of people along its banks in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam rely on the river for their livelihood. Growing pressure by fisheries, damming, and habitat destruction threaten not only the giant catfish and other species that live in the river—but also the welfare of the people who depend on the Mekong.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Mammals: Black Rhinoceros



Description

The Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) is a mammal of the Perissodactyla order which lives in the eastern areas of Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The black rhinoceros is on the endangered species list due to excessive poaching for their horns, which are mostly used in dagger handles as a symbol of wealth in many countries. Contrary to popular opinion, only small amounts of the horns are consumed as an aphrodisiac.

An adult black rhinoceros stands 5 feet (1.5 m) high at the shoulder and is anywhere from 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.65 m) in length. An adult weighs from 1,000 to 3,000 lb (454 to 1362 kg), with the female being smaller. Two horns on the skull are made of keratin with the larger front horn as high as 28 inches (71 cm). Occasionally, a third smaller horn may develop. Skin color depends more on local soil conditions and their wallowing behaviour than anything else, so many black rhinos are typically not truly black in color.

The adults are solitary in nature but come together for mating, with the females accompanying their young during the rearing period. Sometimes, mothers and daughters may form small groups.


Population

The population of black rhinos have been severely reduced in the latter half of the 20th century. In the late 1960s, an estimated 70,000 strong lived in Africa. By 1991, only 10,000 to 15,000 remained in the wild and by 1993 only 2,475 black rhinos were reported to exist. Saving the black rhinos started in ernst at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. According to the IUCN/SSC African Rhino Specialist Group (http://www.rhinos-irf.org/), the population had recovered slightly to 2,599 by 1999. As few as five individuals of the West African subspecies may remain.

Birds: Humboldt Penguin

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Description

The Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) is a South American penguin, breeding in coastal Peru and Chile. Its nearest relatives are the African Penguin, the Magellanic Penguin and the Galapagos Penguin.

Humboldt Penguins are medium-sized, black and white penguins, growing to 53 cm tall. They have a black head with a white border running from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, to join on the throat. They have blackish-grey upperparts and whitish underparts, with a black breast-band extending down the flanks to the thigh. They have a fleshy-pink base to the bill. Juveniles have dark heads and no breast-band.

This penguin nests on islands and rocky coasts, burrowing holes in guano and sometimes using scrapes or caves.

The current status of this penguin is vulnerable, due to a declining population caused in part by over-fishing. Historically it was the victim of guano over-exploitation.